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White House Reverses Course, Will Ban Offshore Drilling in Eastern Gulf and Atlantic

The White House has reversed their position on offshore drilling, opting not to expand on exploration in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast, closing off millions of acres. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who made the announcement, said that the BP oil spill taught them the need to create a more robust regulatory regime before expanding oil exploration.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that a moratorium on drilling would be in force in those areas for at least seven years, until stronger safety and environmental standards were in place. The move puts off limits millions of acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that hold potentially billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

The latest decision is an admission that the plan announced last spring to open vast new coastal areas to oil and gas development was made without heeding the dangers of deep-water drilling and the profound flaws in the government’s program for overseeing it.

“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we learned a number of lessons,” Salazar said in an afternoon briefing, “most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.”

In addition, Salazar granted one lease to Shell in the Arctic, but will run an environmental review first, delaying any drilling by at least a year.

Sen. Bill Nelson, up for re-election in 2012, was the first to praise the decision.

We hear a lot about the White House not paying attention to reality, but clearly this shows that they have the capacity to change course when confronted by enough information. And it only took the largest environmental disaster in history to do it!

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David Dayen

David Dayen